There we were, my high school sweetheart and I, only a few years out of high school in our early twenties. We had just returned home from another day working for “the man.”
“So, what do you want to do?” The first words from his mouth after settling in,
I responded quite quickly not realizing the depth of his question, “What do you mean, for dinner tonight?”
He then took a seat and proceeded to ask, “No, I mean what do you want to do with your life?”
I paused and took a moment to reflect on what exactly he meant by that phrase as it had been asked to me countless times before in my lifetime.
I breathed in deeply, and responded, “I don’t know…” in utter defeat and as tears welled up in my eyes. I had no idea how to honestly answer the question without reverting to all the usual socially accepted answers for any young person in their twenties. Examples being, “I’m thinking about going back to school next fall,” or “I’m trying to figure it out right now.”
I didn’t have a clue, not because I hadn’t thought about it before, but perhaps because I had thought about it one too many times. Well, there we were as tears welled up in my eyes as I immediately began imagining the worst-case scenario thinking this was where he breaks up with me and our love story ends. To my dismay, this was the beginning of a long and much-needed conversation about our future together and the happiness we both deserved while doing something that truly fulfilled our purpose in life.
We concluded that if there was any point in our lives that we refocus our attention on what brings us happiness in the unhappiest times it was now. When it feels as if the world is burning one begins to think about what is truly important to them. In our case it was family, friends, realizing dreams, and making them a reality. Most importantly in this case it was knowing when to walk away from jobs that weren’t serving us. I knew I would rather die knowing I spent every waking moment with the people I love the dearest and dedicating my time to figuring out what truly makes me happy rather than die working for a corporation miles away from my loved ones, straying further from my true purpose.
While some people in our life of course had their opinions about our decision, we didn’t take too many of their opinions to heart. They either simply don’t have the families we have, the love we have, or the guts to do what we did. One day they will look at us and wish they had done the same thing because it’s a risk worth taking if one has the option to. It’s a risk that we didn’t see making us any unhappier than we were at the time.
I could imagine this was a decision that most people lost in their twenties could relate to. Especially at this day in age, there is so much uncertainty and at an age where all you want to do is leave some kind of everlasting impact on the world, the hurdle grows taller and our fear and anxieties increase exponentially.
We start to continually ask ourselves, “What do I want to share with the world?” “What will be my special mark on the world?” Thinking long and hard about this until inevitably we overthink too much for our own good, which is the one thing this current generation can certainly admit to doing too much of. When one is constantly thinking about the state of the world it is drastically affecting one’s state of wellbeing and mental health for that matter. Amid a global pandemic, civil unrest, and unprecedented political strife, a generation is trying to simply grow up and the weight of adolescence becomes heavier than it has ever felt before.
I recall several conversations with colleagues of mine before my ultimate decision to walk away and the sheer strength of families out there in isolation for the first time. They are juggling working full time, getting their kids set up for online school at home, only to come home exhausted, turning on the news just to hear the unemployment rates reaching heights not seen since the great depression and a government in disarray. They look over at their dear family wondering how they are going to provide for them if and when the day comes, they don’t have a stable income any longer.
All the while, these kids are battling a level of stress at such an age that even adults are crippled by. The state of mental health in times such as these couldn’t be more of a prevalent issue and it is all our responsibilities to be aware of this as we go throughout our daily lives. The media shows a shooting at a school and suddenly the next week it is brushed off the shoulders of everyone as the next crisis emerges. Then a fire nearby forces friends to seek refuge somewhere besides their warm cozy beds, and seemingly never-ending power outages make everything seem even more unpredictable. But, as a society, we are told to push on regardless of the mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion that causes us all to want to sink into a deep sleep to escape the craziness that surrounds the outer walls of our little homes. This state of being doesn’t allow us a period to reflect. We are constantly consuming the next tragic event one after another becoming desensitized to the natural reaction of horror that affects us all deep in our psyche.
We are stuck in between two states of being, we are all simultaneously being overstimulated by the media and just numb to what we are taking in. It’s certainly not a healthy state of being. So, where does this leave us? Well, despite it all, I find myself more appreciative than ever. Appreciative of the human kindness of people who have every reason to be cold and distant in turn expressing their love and admiration for those that helped us get through it all. We find ourselves distant in proximities, but closer than ever because we can all come together on the one realization that we are all struggling. We are all dealing with something that we have never dealt with in our lifetimes and that we could have hope that one day it will be over.
A week before we moved out of our overpriced one-bedroom apartment in the city I was on the phone with our internet service provider and of course, it could have been that he had simply been excellently skilled in customer service or was just genuinely a nice person, but one of the first questions he asked me besides what my account number was,
“How are you? Is everyone in your family healthy and safe?”
That simple question caught my attention because there I was on the phone with a stranger in a city far away from my own, asking another stranger if their family is healthy and safe. This collective knowledge that no matter where we are in the world, there are people out there who are not okay and that is completely normal and important to acknowledge. To simply be aware of how the person next to you is feeling and normalizing the fact that they might not always be doing “good”. Regardless, no matter what you are going through, there is always the knowledge that there is someone out there who has it much worse. Of course, it is crucial to acknowledge our personal struggle especially when it is causing us so much grief, but the sheer idea that you are not the only one out there going through this and we are all going through something and we are all justified in that struggle no matter who you are, that is so powerful.
Then it was finally time for us to leave, the car was all packed up and as we drove away from the city that we were once so excited to move to, I began to reflect on all the positive experiences that I had gained since living there. Even though it didn’t turn out exactly as I had once planned, I had the realization that I had grown so much and was so appreciative of the people and the places that did bring me joy. Even though I was moving back to the town where my journey began, I was going back with a completely new perspective and fresh hope in the future that I hadn’t had before. That is how I would also like to feel about past year, it certainly did not turn out how we all planned, but in the end, we found ourselves with much more hope and excitement for the future than we would have had if everything had been perfect and a renewed sense of appreciation of what we already have. I have no idea how the rest of this year will pan out, but I hope we all gain the strength to make a decision to walk away from what isn’t serving us, whatever that looks like for each of us as individuals, we all have the power within ourselves to make necessary changes towards positive and happier futures. Sometimes in life you just have to take the plunge, yes it’s scary, yes you don’t know the outcome, but you must take the risk to reap the reward and when that reward is happiness and overall improved wellbeing, well, that’s a risk I am certainly willing to take, how about you?